Very often Anarchist’s Corner tells a tragic and unresolved tale, but these examples are rather different.They’re two of the most important transport good causes around, and you really can do something to help. Even if you never travel by train, and don’t live in these areas, don’t forget that they are net generators of road traffic, which affects every road in the country. Overseas readers might be surprised to hear that major transport infrastructure decisions are made by volunteers in Britain…
Scottish Borders: Back in the late 1960s, after Doctor Beeching had erased half of Britain’s rail network, one major trunk line teetered on the brink of extinction.The direct ‘Waverley’ route from Edinburgh to Carlisle provided suburban rail services in Edinburgh, long-distance links throughout the Scottish Borders region and an essential diversionary route should either of the other trunk lines from the south be disrupted.
Despite some powerful arguments in favour of retention, the Labour Government of the day chose to close the entire line, and the final train duly ran on 6th January 1969: it proved to be the last major rail closure in the UK.
So what, one might ask? We discovered the negative effect on tourism ourselves back in 1998 (see Mole, A to B 8). For the locals – the voluntarily and involuntarily car-free (37% of adults in the area at the last census), students, children, the unemployed and so on – the effect was more or less complete isolation. Galashiels, with a population of over 14,000, found itself 33 miles from a railway station, while Hawick (population 14,500) is no less than 50 miles from Edinburgh. Many smaller towns, including Selkirk, Melrose and Jedburgh, were cut off that fateful day too.
More recently, the effects have been felt just as keenly by those who could afford a car, because the long tenuous road link into Edinburgh is proving increasingly slow and unreliable for regular commuting. As was all too often the case, promised road ‘improvements’ failed to materialise, leaving the central Borders woefully served, while road and rail routes on the east and west coasts were steadily upgraded.
…a trust has been set up to force the taxman to chip in under the Gift Aid scheme…
Thirty years on, despite near total indifference from the British Department for Transport (well, what did you expect?), political change in Scotland has put railways back on the agenda. After a long and heroic struggle, a small but vociferous pressure group is close to securing 35 miles of rebuilt commuter line from Edinburgh south to the Borders town of Galashiels.
What can we do? A committee of MSPs from the Scottish Parliament is currently debating the Waverley Railway Bill and taking written evidence from interested parties. This could, of course, be a letter relating to general environmental issues, but would carry extra weight if (like us) you have had problems getting in or out of the Borders region whilst on holiday, or perhaps chosen to travel elsewhere for the same reason. Evidence of disrupted rail travel on surviving Anglo-Scottish rail services is also admissible, because should the entire Waverley line be reopened, it would have great strategic significance.
For wealthy types, the campaign also needs donations, and a trust has been set up to force the tax man to chip in under the Gift Aid scheme. A nice irony there – the Waverley Route Trust receives no assistance from the Strategic Rail Authority or the DfT, but you can screw some money out of the Government all the same.The Trust is seeking £40,000 for a professional study of the options for taking the line further into the Borders.The basic commuter railway will solve one problem, but the Waverley line will be carrying charter trains and freight (principally timber traffic), plus through intercity and sleeper services, should it ever reach Carlisle.To make a donation, telephone Bill Jamieson on 01578 730262 and ask for the Waverley Route Trust Gift Aid declaration form.
Maybe you think railway reinstatement is a load of rose-tinted tosh? Not in Scotland it isn’t.Work is about to start on rebuilding lines to Alloa in the Central region, and Larkhall in Strathclyde. England might exist in a transport policy vacuum, but things are progressing north of the border.
Letters in support of the Waverley Railway Bill should be addressed to the Waverley Railway Partnership: Bruce Rutherford, Head of Network Management,Transport & Environmental Standards, Scottish Borders Council, Council HQ, Newtown St Boswells, Melrose,TD6 0SA. For further details tel 01578 730262 or web www.thewaverleyroute.co.uk
Cambridgeshire: Far away from the Scottish Borders, another crucial transport matter lies unresolved.The railway line from Cambridge to Huntingdon closed long ago as a through passenger route, but a branch from Cambridge to St Ives remained open until 1970 for passengers, and well into the 1980s for freight.When the last freight train left, the track was mothballed, and although some serious vegetation has overwhelmed the infrastructure in the intervening years, the track is still in place.
Meanwhile, Cambridge, and the satellite towns and villages along the route, were growing at an unprecedented pace, and the A14 road linking Cambridge with Huntingdon had become one of the busiest dual-carriageway roads in the country. As the years passed, plans came and went for waking the slumbering railway line, but with no national guidance, local arguments over cost and provision prevented progress being made.
The need for a commuter rail service was obvious, but a reinstated line to St Ives, continuing on a new alignment into Huntingdon would also provide a diversionary route for long-distance trains and form part of a rail ‘M25’ for freight and passengers bypassing London. In other words, this is infrastructure of national importance.
Sadly, none of the plans worked out and Cambridgeshire County Council decided to convert the route into a guided bus corridor. Guided buses were a briefly fashionable idea, considered cheaper and more flexible than rail by some local authorities, but experience has shown many flaws.We do not have the space to outline all of the reasons why a guided busway is such a bad idea, but briefly: buses would be slower than rail (even slower than today’s bus schedule), they would not carry bicycles, and the busway would be expensive to build – the latest estimate has passed £100 million and is still rising. Even the inventor of the guided busway, who happens to live in the area, thinks this is not a suitable candidate for conversion!
Rail could carry long-distance traffic, plus local trains across the city to the (frighteningly congested) Addenbrookes Hospital, and even Stansted Airport.Trains would also carry bicycles; one study predicting that bicycle carriage might increase revenue by 28%. Remember, we’re talking about a commuter rail service into Cambridge, one of the most cycle-orientated cities in the country.
With studies predicting at least 7,000 purely local passengers a day, no-one is suggesting that a railway would not be viable. Unfortunately, the County Council is ignoring the wider transport picture and clinging desperately to the bus scheme.
Rail campaign group Cast Iron has organised a petition in favour of rail reinstatement.You can join the petition and find out a great deal more about the issues involved at the campaign website: www.castiron.org.uk. Alternatively, write to: Cast Iron, St Francis House, 10 Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB5 8DT, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.The deadline for objections to the guided bus scheme has now officially passed, but there’s never any harm in hassling the Department for Transport: email@example.com